Love is pretty keen with all the fuzzy feelings, hand holding, and long beach strolls against a picturesque sunset backdrop. Except, somehow, there’s always something that blurs the pretty picture that your heart is starting to paint. My friends and I have experienced all of the deal breakers: insane mothers, overprotective fathers, crazed obsessions with feet (okay, maybe not that last one, but the other two really did happen), and each one has impeded the happily-ever-after. I’m all for working through problems and communicating when you’re in a relationship, but sometimes future in-laws kill the possibility of a future. Recently, a new “foe” has popped up on my radar who happens to share the same last name with my Prince Charming.
My fairytale started off beautifully. My first dinner over at Andrew’s house went swimmingly, and I loved his mom and dad. Of course, since then, we have had our ups and downs, as all relationships do, but our families were never a problem. They loved each other from the go. It was miraculous. Life changing, I dare say. But, alas, crap happens.
Or, in this case, a brother happened.
Usually, the brother who plays the pain-in-the-butt belongs to the lady in the relationship--big bro trying to protect little sis from heartbreak and any male in the universe. Sometimes, his success is so great that the poor gal dies alone as a cat lady.
This fateful encounter happened at dinner. In defense of my bf’s family, they did warn me. They told me in advance, multiple times, that their eldest son, Mark, was moody. I would go as far to say he had womanly tendencies... periodically. To sum it up, I didn’t believe them. It didn’t make sense to me that Mark would be so different than Andrew, and that the laid back, easygoing personality I loved in my boyfriend wouldn’t be present in his big brother. It’s my own fault; I thought I would be immune to the brother’s temperamental behavior.
Our server had a little too much on his plate that night. The restaurant was rocking, and this poor kid suddenly has three of his four tables cash out, and then re-sat in a span of about ten minutes. I’m a part-time waitress myself, and I know how intense that scenario can be, especially when the rest of the staff is already scrambling to complete their own business. With the intense demand of his other tables taken into account, our waiter still did not perform to the best of his ability (in layman's terms, the kid forgot about the appetizer, continued disappearing for minutes at a time, left drinks empty, and didn’t clear away used plates). I thought, under the circumstances, the kid did alright, but I was far from impressed.
Dinner had came and went, and we now sat waiting for dessert. When the dishes hit the table top, I couldn’t help but turn up my nose. For those who have had creme brulee, you’ll understand my frustrations. My boyfriend and I, waiting readily with spoons in hand, let out a disappointed gasp as the porcelain dish was set in front of us. The blackened sugar coated top layer was the first upset, followed by the liquid consistency of the creme brulee’s innards.
As we tried to laugh it off and lap up our dessert, my boyfriend’s mom leaned over the booth to ask my opinion about the young server’s tip.
“You’ve had experience with this stuff Rach, what would you tip him?” She asked me.
I paused, thinking about it, replaying the meal. “Well, honestly, I wasn’t super impressed with this guy. I thought he could have done some things better, even though he was busy. I think 15% is fair, but I wouldn’t do much more than that.”
That’s when my boyfriend’s mom leaned over to ask Mark.
"Mark, what would you tip him? Rach was thinking 15% with all of the stuff that happened. I think that’s pretty good...”
He didn’t even let her finish the sentence. “15%? That’s just because she’s frugal and Dutch. I can’t believe you guys would raise hell with this kid like that. He did a good job!”
I was dumbfounded. All I had said was my opinion on the tip, where was this aggression coming from?
“You know, I’m in the service industry, and so is my roommate, and I totally understand what this kid has to go through,” Mark grumbled. “I understand that this kid could have done better, but he was really busy, and you know what? I am a 20% tipper,” he said, acting offended and glaring at me. “I am a 20% tipper all of the time. No matter what.”
As Mark was running his mouth, I couldn’t help but critique him internally. When Mark referred to “the service industry” he was talking about his bartending gig on Saturday nights (his roommate, on the other hand, checked out more thoroughly in my book, being a regular, full time bartender at a local pub). What Mark was trying to justify just pissed me off more. His intentionally obvious “20% tipper” comment had been directed at me.
Mark was trying to make a point that as a waitress, I should be more considerate of this kid’s performance. For a quick rebuttal of Mark’s commentary let me just say this: A server and a bartender are two totally different occupations. His assumption that he could sympathize with the tasks performed by the server with zero familiarity of the job makes me even more frustrated by his childlike rant and his attempt at a compassionate defense of this poor lad’s tip.
“And, no offense Rachael, but I just don’t think that your work sees this much business. I don’t think you really understand how busy this type of thing can get,” Mark said with a smirk.
Strike three, you pain in the rear end.
I have to admit, I am pretty pleased that I refrained from coming across the table. Instead, I kept my cool and waited out the storm. It wasn’t until after an awkwardly quiet ride home that I released my fury in the form of a rant to Andrew (and, his mom actually, which I’ll save for another blog).
It is unfortunate that I never talked through the comments with Mark, but looking on it now, maybe that’s for the best. I decided that, in preparation for any other confrontational situations, I needed to construct a set of guidelines to keep me from flying off the handle. Here’s the final result:
1.) Let ‘Em Rant: At some point, the line between joking around and sarcasm gets overlooked in a big way. For some siblings, this line is absolutely and totally invisible, making the dark crossover even more troublesome. Couples over for dinner are huge distractions and suck up much attention from parents and inlaws. Just remember that most jokes gone astray are desperate attempts to be noticed.
2.) Guns Blazing: I suggest that killing the offender should be avoided, as much as you may want to. Do your best to remain the bigger person and maintain the peace. As difficult as it may seem, retaliation needs to be avoided to keep your conscience clean. More likely than not, the sibling’s reaction was noted by more than just you, and parents don’t always jump on their kid’s bandwagon when they know they’re in the wrong.
3.) Check Your Gauges: Depending on how comfortable you are with your boyfriend/girlfriend/spouse’s family, modify your reaction and remain respectful. Bad blood is the last thing you want to see invading the bond of brothers and sisters, and an angry explosion from you could be the beginning of a painful, uncomfortable kinship.
4.) Cheap Therapy: The one person that seriously needs to be communicating with you after an encounter is your partner. The severity of the siblings actions will determine how the conversation flows. But, as a couple, a game plan must be conceived. Questions like: should my boyfriend/girlfriend speak to the troubled sibling about how they’ve acted? How will we react next time? Should we be sticking up for one another if the joking turns nasty? All of these conversations may be monotonous, even uncomfortable, but they have to happen. Otherwise, the next time the sibling gets sassy, the after effects may be more than just hurt feelings.
The common story line targets the mother-in-law or father-in-law, but rarely do we see blockbusters made of the significant other’s sibling. For those out there dealing with a sibling that’s interrupting your happily-ever-after, know that you’re not alone. To cope in an uncomfortable situation with his/her sibling, just take these few guidelines to the dinner table and keep it cool.